Thursday, November 30, 2017

Burnout, Part 1

So much of the teaching part of my job turns out to be about getting students into a positive psychological headspace.  Just attending class is often a struggle.  And I'm not even talking about their hunger, homelessness, or various other forms of vulnerability. It's real, folks, for them. So don't get me wrong; I'm not annoyed by THEM; a bunch of things are failing them, and here's what it looks like. On my cynical days, I confess, I wish I could just plug-n-play the most relevant mantra for their issue, and assure them that I've heard it all before, and to just get on with it as best they can. No need to conjure up the whole song-and-dance about it; I, too, have to move on to other duties.

The problem isn't them. It's that I'm burning out. Mustering up the energy to lovingly guide students from their excuses and the crazy myths they have about college has made me decide it'd be cathartic to write a "shit students say" list.  I am fully aware that there are just as many idiotic excuses that I make as a professor and academic, so I list these in full acknowledgment that a) it's not always their fault, for sure, and b) the stuff coming out of my own mouth is often just as ridiculous.

Apologies for the cynical undertones in what follows. Rest assured that I truly believe that the kids are awesome. They give me hope in the future, and I do cry almost every time I think about how honored I feel to have this job. My students' beautiful souls make all the other crap worth it.

But again, I'm burning out. It's not them, it's me. Or rather, it's the systems that leverage too much love out of faculty and too much debt and doubt out of students. Fuck those systems!

If you're a student of mine and you ever said any of these things to me, I promise I love you. I said many of these things too, when I was a student.  Once, on the last day of my Chinese Literature and Thought class, I played frisbee on the grass--outside the very classroom I was supposed to be in!-- because it was sunny, and I figured it was within the philosophy of Taoism to follow one's bliss rather than do work.  I told the professor I was "following the 'way'."

For another class on Buddhism, I wrote a 2-page final paper about how I couldn't write the required 7-10 pages about the topic because it would be against Buddhist teachings to try to understand it through reasoned writing.

I've done it all too, so I'm not on my high horse here. But as a result of hearing all these excuses so many times, I have come up with some mantra I find myself saying multiple times a day in response to these things students say to me, which I also list, below.

First, however, I hope you enjoy some of these doozies, which, again, I list here as a form of catharsis for myself, not as a criticism of my students:

Shit Students Say, Bless Their Beautiful Souls

1. "Professor, do you have a stapler?  Is it OK if I just fold over the corners?"
Read: I need permission every time I forget to keep my pieces of paper from separating from each other, and want your reassurance that it's not annoying to have to keep them all together as you grade my work.

2.  "Can we talk?  Can I close the door?"
Read: I'm about to unload some heavy shit.  This will take at least an hour.

3.  "Wait, so, everything I learned in high school was wrong?"
Read: I had no idea that K-12 education was a hoax. Is all education a hoax? What am I doing here?

4.  "Why doesn't your syllabus state that, by the end of the course, the planet will be saved, the 2016 election reversed, and that you're available for one-on-one hour-long sessions of existential crisis therapy?"
Read: I can't figure out how to take the gift of critical tools where I find them.

5.  "Professor, you work too hard. You should relax more."
Read: give more time to one-on-one hour-long therapy sessions, but do less of the other ridiculous stuff your job requires.  Also, being a professor must really suck.

6.  "I didn't want to submit an assignment that doesn't reflect my best work, so can I have an extension?"
Read: I didn't prioritize doing the work, but I want you to think it's because I care TOO much.

7.  "Why can't you teach me how to overturn capitalism in 15 weeks?"
Read: What good is this class in the world?

8.  "Why don't your classes solve more problems directly, with like, direct action and real-world, immediate change?"
Read: I have swallowed the anti-intellectual pill and don't think that learning how to think is valuable to real change.

9.  "Can I leave class early?  I have a thing I have to do."
Read: I'm special. All the other students who stay in class the whole time aren't as important as I am, and the things you have planned for my time here are not important to me.

10.  "This material is really depressing.  I can't come to class because the material you're teaching me is causing me anxiety."
Read: I thought I was supposed to only do things that make me happy.  Why are you asking me to be unhappy?

11.  "You mean, the world didn't begin the day I was born?"
Read: As an Anglo-American, I have no history. I'm told to believe that I'm the center of the universe, rather than a moment within a long arc of time.  I don't believe there's anything worthwhile to learn from anybody who's lived longer than I have, or who came before me.

12.  "You look tired."
Read: If I make you feel insecure, you'll go easy on me.  OR, depending on the context: I really care about you as a human being.

13.  "I can't write this paper because I don't know what I think."
Read: Tell me what to think.  And then write the paper for me.

14.  "I am lost. I can't do that thing you're asking of me. Pump my ego up by telling me that I'm great, and tell me what I think and what I should do."
Read: Imposter syndrome.

15.  "Nothing any scholar has ever said has any relevance to me.  Scholarship is created by academia, which is bought out by capitalism, so the only worthwhile thoughts in the world are the ones in my head right now, and maybe the thoughts in my favorite singer's head."
Read: I've swallowed the anti-intellectual pill and don't want to spend the time it would take to read all those articles and books.

16.  "Sorry I was absent. What did I miss?"
Read: I want you to think I care about what I've missed.

17.  "I don't have the rough draft done, so I won't be in class for the peer review."
Read: I procrastinated and am embarrassed that I don't have much to show.

18.  "Could we meet sometime to talk about this amazing idea I have?"
Read: I think the job of a professor is to wait for each individual student to have an amazing idea and to carry it through to its conclusion with them.

19.  "Needing to write a clear sentence is a form of oppression, so no, I will not fix all these fragments and run-ons, or choose precise words that say what I really mean, or get rid of all the "really"s and "very"s and "totally"s." 
Read: I'm too lazy to care about it.

20.  "I need to drop out of college because I need to do something more radical."
Read: You have nothing to teach me. Hanging out here is a waste of my time.

My Mantras/Responses:

Get that Shit Done.

Just Write.

It's in the Syllabus.

Sure, whatever you need to do.

Fake It 'Til You Make It.

Get that Shit Done.

You Got This.

Just showing up is 90% of the battle.

Get that Shit Done.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Where is Decolonization in Environmental Justice?: Jaskiran Dhillon's Critique

I learned about the work of brilliant activist-scholar, Jaskiran Dhillon, at the Human Rights symposium in St. Louis October 11-12, 2017, the subject of my last blog post.  Dhillon is an assistant professor of Global Studies and Anthropology at the New School, and is from a tiny town in Treaty Six Cree Territory, Saskatchewan.   Raised by politicized parents, she quickly became involved in decolonial activism, and does this work across the globe, particularly in Canada and Burma and, recently, in solidarity with Standing Rock.  Author of Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization, and the Politics of Intervention, Dhillon gave a plenary talk at the Human Rights symposium that developed an anti-colonial critique of environmental justice. 

A couple of random highlights:

·      Voicing a position I have a hard time conveying to my environmentalist students, Dhillon is suspicious of the new craze to integrate Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) into Climate Change science and policy.  She reminded me that TEK is not a knowledge “resource,” as the language in the documents of federal agencies describes it, but rather an action word—it’s something that people do, not know.  The language of TEK as “resource” sets up TEK to be yet another thing to colonize for the purposes of settler-culture’s desire to adapt and survive climate change.  The “discovery” of the value of TEK on the heels of centuries of assimilation and oppression attests to the fact that settler culture only cares about indigenous ways when it suits their own agendas.  The potential for abuses of TEK and the communities that embody it—in the name of dominant white cultures battling or surviving climate change, while indigenous communities continue to bear the brunt of extraction politics—are high.  Dhillon asks, “whose interests are served when TEK is extracted in service of climate recovery?”, and says the problem is that the appropriation of TEK to protect “all of us” is not linked to the broader goals of indigenous sovereignty or dismantling settler colonialism.

·      Environmental justice (EJ) isn’t a useful term for indigenous movements, in part because it identifies the first race-based environmental abuses in the 1970s, with Love Canal and as documented by Robert Bullard’s Dumping in Dixie.  The origin story of EJ in the US ties it to the Civil Rights movement, whereas indigenous communities have been experiencing race-based environmental exploitation “since 1492.”  Also, for indigenous communities, colonization is above all an act of environmental violence. If we historicize the 1970s as the birth of EJ, we yet again erase indigenous history in the U.S. Alternatively, maybe EJ is just something else—not just a way to describe links between racial injustice and environmental degradation.  I think Dhillon might argue that settler colonialism’s own forms of environmental degradation ought to be described as its own thing. But it’s still really helpful for her to have pointed out the need for a more specific, precise definition of EJ so that colonialism isn’t ignored, yet again, and so that we can understand the nuances between different forms of racial injustice and their often quite different relationships to environmental degradation.  Another way of approaching it, she says, is to consider decolonization as a foundation to EJ.

·      Dhillon also made the brilliant point that climate change and settler colonialism are linked.  This may feel like a “no-duh” insight to those who study or live TEK, but this insight is really important as a follow-up to the above point: dominant environmental discourse often posits that industrialization (e.g. Leo Marx, Al Gore) or capitalism (e.g. Naomi Klein) are the root causes of climate change.  An anti-colonial critique of this narrative points out that colonialism paved the way for these later developments, and that ongoing colonial relationships enable these other phenomena to thrive.  Overthrowing capitalism or getting post-fossil-fuel won’t address the root problem.  Dhillon says that blaming capitalism is “a red herring.”  As such, a person can be fighting for fixing climate change and also be very much against indigenous sovereignty.  To take it further, I would add that this is precisely the kind of internal contradiction within the mainstream environmental movement that often assumes its “saving” of the planet will lead to social justice. 

·      Dhillon also writes about, but did not develop so much in the talk due to time limits, the links between NODAPL and police state violence, indigenous education policies, “man camps”, sex trafficking, and myriad other forms of cultural, physical, and sexual violence.   As she says, “NODAPL isn’t about a pipeline; it’s a fight for the co-existence of life.”

In the Q&A, Dhillon received a final question from an older white woman, who asked, voice quivering and nearly on the edge of tears: “I love my house.” Long pause.  “What are we supposed to do?”

I just about combusted in my seat, and wondered how Jaskiran would handle this.  She was a master class in difficult dialogue.  I wish I could relay precisely what she said, but basically, she firmly but calmly said, “that’s not my problem.  Find resources about how to work through your white guilt, find friends going through the same thing, and figure it out.  Start to see all the privileges you inherited so that you could have your house; this work is hard.”  She was firm about not coddling the white woman’s newfound epiphany of her complicity in colonialism, but did not punish her for asking the question.  I asked Jaskiran what she thought of that exchange, and I was really impressed that she welcomed the question and commended the woman for saying what so many people think, but fear saying.  

I’m still mulling over all that happened at that conference, but certainly Dhillon’s talk and her Q&A taught me so much about the messiness of the relationships between the climate movement and decolonization, and between EJ and indigenous rights. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Is There Room for Environmental Justice in the Human Rights Framework?: A Plenary at the Human Rights Symposium

Last week, I had the honor of being a plenary speaker at a superb symposium hosted annually by the Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies at Webster University in St. Louis.  The theme of the conference for this International Year of Human Rights was Environmental Justice.  The organization of the symposium was a 2-day series of speakers ranging from NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice staff and local nuclear waste dumping filmmaker-activists to academics working on environmental justice.  We had opportunities to each speak and answer questions, to meet with each other and members of the audience, and then speak together in a roundtable.

It was both an alarming and an uplifting experience, for the range of folks there from different points of access around issues of environmental justice, and for the engagement with the local issues of St. Louis.  I learned so much about St. Louis, in terms of its history of segregation, the related protests occurring there now due to the lack of justice for Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man killed by a police officer who was recently acquitted, and nuclear waste dumping (St. Louis is the city nobody talks about regarding America's nuclear era).

As an academic trained in scholarship, I am sad that I'm not around activists and agency people more often, who come to the questions I theorize and historicize from really pragmatic and situated perspectives.  I was in heaven having conversations around shared themes and sharing tools from our respective areas of expertise.  It was gratifying to feel I had something to offer them, too, since usually it feels like only the other way around.

Speaking of the value of scholarship and theory to that work, I have made it a goal this year to learn how to give more dynamic talks because I am starting to be invited to give them more, and in a wider array of settings.  If I ever cared to make my scholarship meaningful and have an impact on the world, this surely seems my chance, right?  I'm so used to dismissing publications and the precious work of intellectual life as irrelevant to what's happening "out there" in the "real world," or perhaps I've just internalized that critique from my students and from society at large, which is so anti-intellectual at this current moment.   Also, the neoliberalization of higher education isn't doing us any favors.

But speaking to the public is one way--definitely not the only way--we academics can scale out our work, while making academia seem more relevant to people "out there" or "in the real world," less highfalutin.  So, I'm slowly working to do more choreographed, extemporaneous speaking, focusing on only one guiding insight or gap in the dominant knowledge, and providing provocative examples, stories, or visuals.

I don't want to be beholden to the podium and its microphone or its Power Point advancing buttons.  I want to move around, not just be a big brainy head popping up over a big wooden lectern hiding my body.  I want to change the affect in the room to be more receptive to the thoughts that I must think are so fabulous I just had to occupy all the audience's space and time to share.

My talk was on the relative merits and pitfalls of bringing the tools of environmental justice into considerations of "human rights".  I particularly wanted to focus on the differences between environmental and social justice efforts, and why there is a lot of suspicion of environmental groups entering social justice conversations.  Here, I drew on my book, The Ecological Other, to explain the history of social oppression in the name of nature.  I concluded by drawing on Julie Sze and Lindsey Dillon's work on "Police Power and Particulate Matters" to use the case of Eric Garner's last words, "I Can't Breathe" to illustrate the value of a environmental justice analysis that recognizes a shared root of structural violence causing both police brutality and increased health hazards in black communities, to help connect the context of what's happening in St. Louis to the topic of the symposium.

Meanwhile, I learned an immense amount from the following plenaries who shared the lineup with me:

  • Jaskiran Dhillon, scholar-decolonial activist and author of Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization, and the Politics of Intervention (2017). 
  • Carl Zimring, author of Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the U.S.

  • Carolyn Finney, scholar-activist and author of Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Outdoors

  • Marnese Jackson and Bruce Morrison, NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice representative and lawyer, respectively.
Marnese Jackson, me, and Bruce Morrison at the symposium
  • Carl, Allison, and Dawn, creators and subjects in The First Secret City, a brand-new documentary seeking to raise attention  around the health impacts of aluminum processing and the movement of nuclear waste around the city.
  • Sylvester Brown, Jr., who had an illustrious career as a reporter and writer, before launching his answer to the economic problems that give rise to violence against blacks-- The Sweet Potato Project. 

Carl considered Dove's retracted ad campaign from the weekend in his analysis of "racial hygiene" in America
Thanks so much to Lindsey Kingston, Kate Pearsons, Karla Armbruster, for bringing me to Webster for this event, and to my beloved student Madi Whaley for helping me conceive of and build this talk, ground me in the St. Louis protests, and find some resources on how to deliver talks better.  Also, a highlight of the trip for me was exchanging ideas with this troop of young activists (below) who made all our work on stage pale in comparison to the work they do "out there", but also, they were so rad because they cared to make the "experts'" lectures relevant to their own efforts- Andrew, Adam, Amber, and the crew, pictured below.  Kids these days....

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Research is My Dirty Little Secret

In a time of sweeping budget cuts and anti-intellectualism, one of the parts of my job that is first on the chopping block is this amorphous thing we academics call "research."

I don't know about you, but my institution is squeezing more and more out of everybody, the most precarious lecturers most of all. 

"Work creep" is everywhere--for example: we got rid of our college's website manager, and now our personnel manager will be doing all that website work.  The part of her personnel work that is getting displaced is the travel stuff.  Our departments have to figure out how to internalize that labor.  This is happening everywhere.  Meanwhile, administrative bloat is a thing: those flow charts of who reports to whom are mind-bogglingly complicated, and seem to change every year.  

For one unit of advising time, I'll be asked to advise not 45 students, but 70, for example, in the next budget cut.

I'll teach the same amount of classes, but head count will go up 25%.

Lecturers will lose classes.

Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. 

In this context, committees are convened to strategize how to survive these budget cuts, creating "urgent" service work.  Much more work is spread among fewer people.  Though I'm glad to have a secure job that renders me one of those people who stays in work, I fear for the increased precarity of those who do not.  And I am sad about what it's doing to academia in a cultural moment when intellectual "elites" are losing status in the public sphere by the minute.

Because beside lecturers' job security, what gets cut? What is the unnecessary "fat" in our work lives?  


If it's not directly serving students-- and in administrative mumbo-jumbo that means, is it using student unit hours (head-count) as part of instruction?  Are you making your teaching/research obligations so efficient that you can literally do one by doing the other?  Are you leveraging your research to translate directly to tangible, measurable, immediate forms of student success?  Does your research have immediate impact on the classroom?  If not, good luck finding the space in this squeezed budget landscape to indulge yourself in the luxury that is thinking, writing, thinking, writing.

Superfluous to the obligations of student retention and over other imperatives of higher education (oh, for example, producing meaningful knowledge), research can only get done on the side-- it's definitely become my dirty little secret.  

Some of my colleagues are champions of me taking time to pursue my love of research.  They "take the hit" for me by stepping up to committees and making their service work count "double" for their programs and mine.  They compensate for my bureaucratic negligence, all the while enabling the slow creep of bureaucratic entanglements (assess more, report more, figure out more software interfaces, represent your program here and there and there... you know the drill).  I owe those colleagues many, many margaritas.  

But others, less sympathetic about the squeeze that my attention to research might entail for their workload, may find it a sign that I have too much time on my hands-- I'm not serving students enough and not on enough committees-- if I am discovered in the act of carving out time and space to write and think.  You're producing research?  It's like some kind of infidelity to the care of family I am supposed to be doing.  

How would this culture change?  Do we really need a better budget to make people think research is valuable to what we're doing at a liberal arts, teaching institution?  I don't think so.  I think there's something much worse going on here that we need to reckon with: the value of intellectual work in this historical moment, the neoliberalization of higher education, and the linking of educational outcomes entirely to whether or not students get jobs when they graduate.  I would like to have my battles on those grounds-- cultivating really compelling cases for the value of intellectual work in the world-- and not in the hallways of my campus or in the land of nasty work emails.  

Monday, October 2, 2017

"I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie": Or, Why I Should Put My Children in a Bubble

The other day, my nearly 7-year old came home singing "I like big butts and I cannot lie!"

Oh. My. God.

What have I done.

Titillated by my horror, she started singing it louder, and more, and smiling giddily while doing so.

Then, my 3 1/2-year old, who had been watching all of what is commonly known as the classic "child/parent nonverbal horror-titillation feedback cycle," joined in.  Because obviously.

Oh. My. God.

I'm a terrible mother. How did this happen?  How did I end with two children delightfully powering out this line from Sir MixaLot's "Baby Got Back" in the bathtub?

In moments like this, you have two choices, as I see it.  One: laugh, embrace the passing on of a classic song of my own generation to my kin, and appreciate my kids' exposure to all the pleasures of popular culture.

Alternatively, and less likely, I can undo their learning.  Good luck.   Parental advisory noted, but how was I supposed to see "big butts" coming down the pike?  I mean, she's only 7 for goodness sake!  I wasn't prepared for this.

Ok, so, let's go with option 1: laugh and try to make lemonade with these lemons.

I think of myself as a mediator of the world--not the maker of the world-- for my kids. I love grabbing these teaching moments by the horn, and relinquishing the pretense that I can be a kind of saran wrap around my kids, a prophylactic to cultural effluvia.

"Baby's Got Back" isn't really effluvia, either.  Actually, it was a feminist anthem of my generation.  Who can argue with "my anaconda don't want none unless you got buns, hon!"?  And c'mon, this is funny: "you can do side-bends or sit-ups, but please don't lose that butt!"  The song was an irreverent thumb in the eye of the expectations of femininity in American culture, which is and certainly was (in  1992, the year I consider the peak of musical craziness in my life) raced as much as it's gendered. That is, embracing a big butt was both a rejection of patriarchal culture's expectations of thinness and a rejection of white culture's ideals of femininity.

Sure, the song has problems. Sure, it still sexualizes women and dissects them into body parts, and does so in ways that don't do any kind of woman any favors.  The video of the song repeated all the same misogynistic tropes that the genre was famous for, except it did so with women who have large rear ends instead of skinny ones.  Not all that radical, you could say.  In some ways, sure, the song didn't undo as much patriarchy as it perpetuated.

Ok, but flash forward to your 7-year old girl coming home singing it in 2017.

I carry on the campaign to teach kids that women are whole people and that they are not reduced to their looks, regardless of the girth or lack thereof of their backsides.  We are more than our backsides.   But this song isn't the first chance I've had to have that conversation, PA-LEASE, people.

From Hillary to Melania to Michelle, ample opportunities exist to explore how women's whole identities matter little compared to their looks in American culture.  Sir MixaLot isn't the only one preaching that message.

The real challenge is to not be horrified by my child's lost innocence, because I can't keep her in a bubble forever.  She's going to grow up in this white supremacist patriarchal culture, so I'm going to start from that premise.  Instead of pretending that we aren't all breathing in all that toxicity all the time, whether we choose to recognize it or not (aka "white privilege"), or, even more importantly, whether we have no choice in the matter in the first place, I am going to unpack "Baby's Got Back" with my kiddos.

My near-7-year old loves talking about racial and sexual history and politics; she is profoundly interested in understanding how people operate and interact, and how power has worked in history.  So, even though I haven't quite figured out my approach with this particular song, I will.  By bringing that song home, she's opening up a wonderful window into the context of her daily life, and thus an opportunity to talk about these difficult conversations. I'll leave the sex stuff out (for now), but the gender and race stuff is being handed over on a silver platter; I want to rise to the occasion and take this chance to talk to her: why was the song was so powerful, what kind of cultural work was it doing when it came out, why might people not like hearing her, much less her younger sister, sing it, etc?

It'll be fun and important, one day, to deconstruct the cultural shenanigans going on in this Friend's episode, "The One with Ross's Inappropriate Song".  Why would this song be "inappropriate" in this show?  Why is this storyline "funny", and to whom?  What assumptions about race, class, and gender does the joke rely on to work," and who might it hurt?

At the very least, in any way my young girls can receive drips and drops of the message that big is beautiful, to shore up some strength against the tidal waves of "big is not beautiful", I'll take it.  Sir MixaLot did that for me and who knows how many other young women, and, obviously, still is.  The song may reinforce some kinds of problems even as it rejects one form of oppression, but I'll take it.

I'm not putting my kids in a bubble. My parents didn't put me in a bubble, though I do sometimes wish I hadn't seen so many damn Disney movies. Seriously.  I'm still traumatized by the realization that life after marriage is not happily ever after, just sayin'.

But if I can't control what my kids absorb in their hours when they aren't under my roof, I can at least parent the shit out of this song.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Friends Don't Let Friends Unpause: Curing Your Email Addiction

Oh Boomerang.... I do love you! It's an app. Get it.

You fling those emails away from me, like a shield deflecting arrows, poisonous tranquilizing darts.

You take over my email interface with a big blue "unpause" button, daring me to unplug the dam. You are a dike holding back the flood threatening to inundate my life with non-urgent, vapid, moist emergencies.

I sit at my computer, trained by the incoming emails, to wait more. Wait for another fire to put out, another flame to quell. It's become a sick habit, a twisted pleasure.  I'm on it, I'm busy, I'm responsive.  What for?  And at the cost of what?

Now, when the dam unleashes its fury at 6am, 1pm, and 3pm, I see a small litany of unimportant requests. I deal with them in 5 minutes. I don't waste time waiting for them. I don't intrude upon my family, my fuel, my loves, waiting... waiting... waiting... for all the requests that might make me feel important.

Research shows how much energy it takes to shift attention between one's "deep work" and shallow work.  Research shows how damaging email is to the psyche, to our sense of being overwhelmed by external pressures.  I have succumbed to those pressures, and have seriously wondered how I could possibly survive in my job without my addiction to email.  I respond to emails when I get up at night to pee, I respond to emails in the middle of other meetings, and I respond to emails while my children are trying to get my attention. My stupid smart phone makes this impulse to responsiveness all the more seductive.

Small fires are so fast to put out. Just give me a second, I have to just write this one quick thing.


Here's the genius of Boomerang, for someone like me.  I'm not required to exert any kind of will power.  Turning off my phone's email ability hasn't worked.  Scheduling email times hasn't worked. Telling others that I don't check email except at certain times most definitely doesn't work.  Self-restraint DOES NOT WORK.  The quick-hit of email responsiveness is too addictive. You know what I mean, right?  If I'm not doing anything else, at least I'm performing a virtual persona of productivity.

This is just not acceptable anymore, for reasons I won't go into now.


Suffice to say, Boomerang is your solution if you suffer from something similar.   Every time I have that impulse to check email on my phone: too bad! Every time I want to stop grading papers so I can check email (it's so much more interesting, no?), too bad! Every time I want to avoid my children's requests to see if more urgent requests are transmitting online, too bad!  Every time I want to avoid taking out the trash, too bad! Every time I want to pretend I'm so important in front of somebody who intimidates me, too bad!

I just simply must do something else with myself than open up my fucking phone.  It's brilliant.

Boomerang is also so genius because of the language it uses on the button it highjacks your email interface with-- "Pause"/"Unpause."  When you're in a "Pause" timeframe, Boomerang takes over your email and lets you know!  You can override the pause, and unplug the dam.  If you make the fateful decision to click on "Unpause", then God save your soul.  A little time clock thing will start, and, like a bomb going off, you'll start to see your inbox fill up.  Boomerang makes it hard to open the floodgates, discouraging you to make that decision whimsically.  The psychology of this is perfect for me.  I can't easily unpause on my phone; I have to be on my computer to do so.  The dam is breachable, but it's not easy.  Your interface is always reminding you to "Pause" again.

Let's pause on this idea of pause.  I have read several books on the value of the sabbath, the pause built into our rituals.  I have read at length about how our current work ethos punishes pausers.  Extract labor, extract labor, extract labor-- to think of this in Karl Marx's terms.  The interstitial moments, when nothing is happening, where nothing is taking place, have no value in contemporary life.  My loved ones send me articles cut out about how we need a pause from technology. I find beautiful articles in Buddhism magazines about the detriments of technological distraction.  I "get" why my email addiction is a problem.  But I haven't been able to translate that knowledge into action because, frankly, I'm weak when it comes to discipline and will power. Don't even ask about how much wine I drink, or the egregiousness of excuses I can muster to justify getting an iced mocha on any given day.

For a weak soul like me, Boomerang is some kind of savior.  I'm sure I sound like a proselytizing fiend, and I'm not getting paid to write this.  I genuinely want to share my story with  you, dear reader, of an addiction solved and a soul saved from the torturous drip, drip, drip of the email inbox.

What a genius name!  Can't touch me!

Update: despite no mention in the downloading process (I'm also not very detailed in my reading of fine print. See above, reasons why I need more time afforded by getting off email: because I'm BUSY!), it turns out this app costs money at some point.

I'm currently exploring its beauty, and wondering whether I can manufacture the kind of will power required to do what Boomerang does for me.  I'm also wondering why Google hasn't already created this functionality.... Anyway, sorry if I misled anybody, and get ready for that beautiful blue "Unpause" button to just go away.

I think I'll pay, as my friend Janelle says, because it's like you're getting your money's worth in email vacation!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Is Trump a Liberal Stunt to Make America More Progressive?

Yeah, it's kind of a joke. But haven't you wondered?  He's so anathema to liberals.  But he's also anathema to conservatives.  Everybody's jumping ship.  The swamp is getting drained.  The art of the deal, or craziness?

Might there be some long-term good for progressives amid the horror?

For the record: I was one of those people who watched the 2016 election unfold into a lonely night of sleepless dystopia.  I have acquired a new series of anxiety conditions related to Trump: hives, anxiety, depression, etc. You know the drill.  I am a die-hard progressive and am disgusted and horrified and mostly heartbroken by the fraction of America that elected this beast.

But I'm starting to get it.  Even though I don't like it. Or agree with it.  I'm starting to get it.  We all need to start GETTING IT, even if we don't like it.

And, of course, as an academic, I am trying to pull myself outside of the vicissitudes of popular political media to ask "how is culture changing right under our noses? What's going on that people aren't talking about?"

Although I fundamentally disagree with the whole "empathy" bandwagon that liberals have espoused since Trump won, I do now for the first time understand (even though I disagree with) the logic of the so-called Trump base.  My politics always end up on the other side of them, but I'm starting to appreciate the "art of the deal," the irreverence to partisan status quo modus operandi, and the flashy political theatrics that constantly contradict his actions.

I was one of those privileged white people who didn't really recognize the shitstorm that was the race situation in American before Trump (B.T.).  I always understood that our wars, our prosperity, our definition of America had to do with the oppression of all kinds of people, and that this continues today.  But what is new A.T (After Trump) for this one liberal academic is a sense that I have to take these other viewpoints seriously, even if I don't agree with them.  I am now reading Strangers in Their Own Lands, along with Between the World and Me--not because I believe these two perspectives are relativistically all equally "right," (like "violence on all sides"), but because I do think that if we're going to move toward a more liberal society, we're going to need to engage these Trump supporters at their own terms.

In other words, what would it take to get into the same rooms and conversations with these isolationist, afraid folks who now have been brought even more out into the light?  It doesn't help us to get on our high horses, no matter how right they are.  So, what does it require from us to listen responsibly? Calling out is all fine and well, but to what end? What are we trying to achieve?

I don't know about you, but I want to change minds, hearts, and souls.  I think we have to figure out where our shared humanity is, instead of preach argumentation on a soapbox about our awesome liberal values.

You got my attention.  You're not just evil.  You are afraid.

Empathy is not the right word for this insight, and I am profoundly annoyed that popular discussion is so fixated on it.  Look it up, people, that's not what a national identity or a democratic state is based on.  Democracy is all about figuring out how to compromise amid differences.  I can scream my views more loudly, but all it will get me is laryngitis.

The zero-sum-game logic of Trump's base has been around for a long time.  He's not the problem.  He's just the symptom, it goes without saying. Let's stop beating this dead horse.  Let's stop talking about how crazy Trump is.  Obviously, he is.  But media that focuses on his craziness is missing his actual strategy, his actual actions.  Media coverage of Trump needs to change entirely, instead of applying the same metrics for this guy as they have for presidents past.  I'm not saying media should be inured to his craziness, but that they need to get much smarter about how they represent his craziness.  Just shaking heads over his crazy ain't getting us anywhere. I'm getting tired of it.

Trump's craziness is not interesting to me, beyond the usual shock factor that has always boosted his ratings.  I want to suggest that his swings and oscillations are totally consistent with each other, not signs of his eradic temperament. He is not, as liberals would like to think, and as pundits always tout in op-eds and late night shows, totally hypocritical.  Or at least, that's not just it. To dismiss his craziness as such is a grave mistake.

We are now living in a world where his hypocrisies make sense; we need to catch up.

For example: tweeting blustery stuff against immigration immediately after hanging out with "Chuck and Nancy" doing some bipartisan deals with democrats is an example of his potential to actually change the political ground we all stand on-- in potentially very liberal ways.   He doesn't care about allegiances; he cares most about his narcissism.  This may actually work in our favor.

Not to mention the way he's brought some conversations to the fore, and shaken up even the conservatives.  They have had to jump partisan ship to distance themselves from him.  Take Lindsay Graham, Lisa Murkowski, or John McCain, just as examples.  What will Trump do to the GOP?  I'm actually titillated to watch.

I wish pundits and news reporters would stop describing his inconsistencies as craziness-- it just fuels partisanship and the divisiveness in this country.  Trump shaking one hand while yanking the other's leg makes total sense; it is not hypocritical or two-faced.  It's precisely what he means by "the art of the deal" and "draining the swamp."  Hang out with Nancy one day, and Steve (Miller? Bannon?) the next.   Keep us wondering.   Is banishing Bannon part of his larger strategy?  Probably.

I am the biggest fan of the liberal news media, but the fact that they keep stomping moral high ground about Trump instead of seeing the genius of his strategy to play all sides is a sign that they may indeed need to improve.  There is new evidence out that media focused on "the negative" of Hillary's campaign more than his, and that the media handed him this election.  His assaults on the media are a brilliant way to distance himself from that debt, eh?

Obviously Trump is flipping the finger to the whole system, and regardless of his actual stances, this is why he has a base of people who love him.  I can't believe I'm going to say it, but I also sort of love him for it.  "Screw you. And you. And you."  He hates Paul Ryan as much as he hates CNN.  They're all missing the point.  Break the rules, throw everything into the air and see where it lands.

Trump isn't really a die-hard ideologue or Republican.  His ego may actually work in liberals' favor sometimes, and that he has no loyalty to Republicans.  He wants to piss them off too.  How might this all work out well for liberal progressive agendas?

There are some interesting possibilities, and I'm surprised more pundits aren't talking about them.  Yes, he's appalling and makes me want to throw up and cry all the time.  What is happening to the American dream? Going to hell, yes.

I do have an American Studies training, so this is actually important to me.  What "we" stand for as a nation-- and all our historical hypocrisies-- is important to me.  But I wonder if it's worth getting over my response to his demeanor (wanting to throw up), in order to stand back and watch a bit, and see how these pieces all fall down.

Republicans like Flake, McCain, and even Graham may turn more liberal than we've ever seen, and just to appease their own fans! What a radical thought!

Republicans may decide it's better to go with pro-choice, or pro-immigration, or pro-liberal-thing-of-your-choice in order to shore up the reactionary tide against Trump.  Politics might actually trump partisanship-- finally!  When it becomes acceptable for Republicans to support climate scientists and DACA supporters, you know Trump is reworking politics in fascinating ways that may actually benefit liberal agendas.

Middle of the road Republicans are going to look downright liberal compared to Trump, but so too will middle of the road politicians be held to a "higher" standard than they were before.  If Trump can be the consummate hypocritical narcissistic ever to walk the planet, but still see the benefit in screwing off all his party-liners in order to "make a deal," then perhaps we're not fully in the apocalypse yet.

Let's pay attention to the deals, not the swill coming out of this man's mouth, pores, and ass. It's hard, I know, because he is truly abhorrent on so many levels.  But culture is shifting under our noses and feet as we sit here agape at his boorishness.  The chits may fall in interesting places that liberal progressives might take great advantage of, if we're paying attention, and if we're not so horrified by what he does to women's pussies.  He may very well drain the swamp, and for the better, moving even right-winged folks more left in an effort to distance themselves from him.

Don't stop protesting. Don't stop calling your congresspeople, organizing your communities, mustering passion where you never thought it existed before. I'm not trying to downplay the urgency of the times.  But I do think, if you're a progressive, you must be squirming in your seat with glee just a little about the ways that he pisses off his base, other GOP folks, the usual suspects, almost as much as he pisses us off.

He may turn our stomachs and push all our buttons, but I wonder about the long term.  Maybe he's actually some kind of Frankenstein fantasized in the darkest hour of liberal nightmares.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Resilience: A Keyword in Environmental Studies?

Everybody likes the idea of resilience, right?

Resilience connotes bounce-back-ability.  Grit.  Adapting to change and dodging hardship.  Surviving struggle.

Why wouldn't we want to design resilience into communities, cities, architecture, cultures, young people?  Why wouldn't we want to raise our kids this way?  Why wouldn't we want to study the ways in which these things have proven resilient in the past, in order to emulate them for the upcoming storms?

Or, put another way, why would we resist grit, given all the shit?

We hear it like this:

What's wrong with millenials?  They lack resilience.

Why do we admire hardworking migrant farmworkers?  They're resilient.

What can we do about colonialism?  Cultural resilience.

Cities designed for climate change? Resilient.

Communities that can come out on top after a disaster?  Resilient.

Survivors of sexual violence, institutional racism, intergenerational trauma? Resilient.

Critiques of the word abound.  It's got a lot of problems, as these statements show.  Condescending, fetishizing, appropriating.....  It smacks of privilege.

It puts responsibility for pulling up bootstraps on the individual, and absolves structures and history of blame.

It erases, or risks appropriating, historical ways of managing colonial violence (e.g. Vizenor's concept of native "survivance").

In the context of climate change, "adaptation and resilience" become funding opportunities that accept business-as-usual carbon colonial-capitalism as inevitable and fixed.

Is it a good word? Can we talk about cultivating resilience in the Anthropocene without participating in all these erasures of blame and history?  Or is it just a worthy ideal we can all get on board with?


This keyword entry is inspired by a Facebook thread involving a cast of brilliant thinkers who expanded my own thinking immensely: Britta Spann, Julie Sze, Mary Mendoza, Jennifer Ladino, Deborah Miranda, Anita Mannur, Leena Dallasheh, Rachel Pye Hamling, Stacy Alaimo, Aubrey Streit Krug, and Dianna Fischetti.  I'd be so dumb and uninspired without these women.  Child development, social and clinical psychology, popular culture, indigenous studies, the environmental humanities-- these fields approach the term quite differently.